Jul 14, 2010

Republican County Commissioner gets special treatment in campaign finance violation

HOWELL – In a perfect example of a double standard, Republican Livingston County Commissioner Carol Griffith failed to file campaign spending reports for nearly two years but the Republican Secretary of State Terri Land let her off the hook without a fine.

Griffith should have been fined thousands of dollars because she failed to file reports over the last two years, but instead was allowed to go back and retroactively amend her first report to show that she had spent beneath the minimum threshold for reporting, $1,000.

Griffith, who was elected in 2008 to represent District 7, filed a statement of organization for her campaign in April 2008. At that time, she did not request a waiver for reporting her campaign spending. Candidates for public office are required to file statements of the money they raised and spent before and after the primary and general election, as well as annually. But those reporting requirements are waived if a candidate expects to receive or spend $1,000 or less.

Griffith never checked the box on her statement of organization asking for the waiver. Because she did not receive the waiver, Griffith was required by law to file campaign spending reports. Judy Daubenmier, the chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party, said Griffith got special treatment, and called on her to reject the sweetheart treatment.

“Sometimes when one party has been in power too long there is a feeling that they don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else, but the law is blind to that,” Daubenmier said. “Respect for the rule of law requires that those in charge of legislating for our county be expected to make a good faith effort to follow the law themselves.”

Land has gone to the mat in prosecuting Democrats for similar offenses. In April of 2007, Rep. George Cushingberry Jr., D-Detroit, had charges of lying about his compliance with campaign laws thrown out by an Ingham County Circuit Court Judge after a four day trial and dismissed two felony charges of perjury and one misdemeanor for failure to file reports

In December 21, 2006 former Rep. LaMar Lemmons III, R-Detroit, was found guilty for failing to file two or more campaign finance statements dating back to 2004, and he was ordered to pay fines and fees totaling $1,095.

Griffith should have filed five reports over the last two years – a report before the August 2008 primary, a report after the August 2008 primary, a report before the November 2008 general election, a report after the 2008 general election, and an annual report for 2009. None of those reports is on file with the Livingston County Clerk’s office.

The SOS office assesses fines on a per day basis for late reports, starting at $25 per day for a report that is one day late, up to a maximum of $500 for a report that is 20 days late. Fines are higher for candidates that spend more than $10,000. If Griffith were to be assessed the full fine, she would owe $2,500 in fines -- $500 for each of the five reports that have not been filed.

In addition, candidates are required to file a late contribution report if they receive a large contribution within a few days of the election. Additional fines could be levied if Griffith received such contributions and failed to report them on time.

But Land decided Griffith’s mistake was a clerical error or an oversight and said she didn’t need to pay any fine. The special treatment does not fall within the reasons for waiving a late filing fee contained in the SOS’s Candidate Manual. The manual states:

“The Department of State and the county clerks throughout the state have the authority to waive a late filing fee for reasons of incapacitating physical illness, hospitalization, accident involvement, death, incapacitation for medical reasons or other unique, unintentional factors beyond the filer’s control not stemming from a negligent act or non-action. A request for a late filing fee waiver must be accompanied by documentation that supports the reason for the request.”

Ironically, Daubenmier said, the mistake might have been discovered earlier had the all Republican county commission on which Griffith sits had a greater commitment to transparency. The county commission could require that such documents be scanned and uploaded to the county website and could furnish the county clerk with the equipment to make that possible. Then the local Democrats might have found the mistake earlier instead of noticing it after visiting the Livingston County Courthouse in Howell after the recent May 11 filing candidate deadline.

Griffith’s 2010 statement also did not request a filing waiver but she also retroactively amended that after local Democrats pointed that out to the county clerk’s office.

According to Howell radio station WHMI that reported the story, Griffith declined to comment.

Griffith is being opposed by Kelly Raskauskas, D-Genoa Township. Raskauskas holds a Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a BA cum laude in International Relations from the School of International Service at American University. Raskauskas serves as the President of the Friends of the Brighton District Library, a non-profit group that supports programming, special events and equipment for the BDL throughout the year. She is also a volunteer at the Greenhills School in Ann Arbor.

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